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Gordon D’Arcy: Ireland’s performance in New Zealand defeat one to be proud of

The outcome will hurt an outstanding group of players a long time but Andy Farrell has set the right tone and the squad remains one full of potential

The reality at the start of any World Cup is that only one team will realise the ambition of winning the tournament. It seems trite but players are encouraged to stay in the here-and-now and that’s exactly what you try to do until the unthinkable happens and you’re dumped out at whatever point along the way.

Everyone starts on the same starting line, but journeys differ, often split into two categories, one of achievement or underachievement. An honest appraisal is important to recognise not only which but why a team ended up with one of the two labels.

Waking up following an exit in a World Cup is unsettling, there is a sense of a collective loss, but it is distilled further by scrutinising your own involvement. Did I perform to the level that the team needed of me? Did I meet my own standards? It can be a tough time left alone with your thoughts.

The process of winding down at the team hotel to return home, packing up, can be a welcome distraction but it is temporary. In the quieter moments your mind inevitably returns to match images, actions that you got wrong, meshed with the “what ifs” and “if only” swirling around; but nothing changes the result. Time is the only release mechanism.


In all my involvement at World Cups with Ireland we underperformed and didn’t deliver on the global stage. You can’t win matches with good intentions alone.

Ireland’s performance in defeat to New Zealand at the Stade de France is one to be proud of but it won’t make the outcome any less painful. Conversely it will ache for days, weeks maybe, but it will not come with the emotional baggage I grew accustomed to following World Cups.

Andy Farrell will ensure that is the case. As he has done time and time again, he set the tone in the after-match press conference when he congratulated New Zealand on their win and took ownership of the defeat.

It would have been all too easy to question the referee, Wayne Barnes, like Antoine Dupont did with Ben O’Keeffe after France lost to South Africa but rarely does an official genuinely decide a match.

One of Farrell’s many qualities that helps him to be a successful coach is he never looks for excuses when things don’t go his way; he accepts the vagaries of sports, decisions, bad bounces, injuries and moves on. He looks for the solution rather than being preoccupied by the problem.

There were aspects of Ireland’s performance that misfired again such as the lineout, and scrum set-up. I have sought outside expertise in the latter case. We found a way to win against South Africa without our primary possession in lineouts for a large chunk of the first half.

Once again we endured a shaky start in this facet of the game in the opening 30 minutes and the malfunction robbed Farrell’s side of opportunities to pressure the All Blacks. Instead, we turned the ball over and invited New Zealand to set the tempo of the game.

A lineout turnover directly contributed to New Zealand’s second try. Will Jordan converted a 50-22 kick to find territory in the Irish 22, an easy access for which they did not have to work. Andrew Porter will be trying to reconcile how his dominance over Tyrel Lomax resulted in penalties going against him.

It put Ireland in the role of chasers but, to their credit, they didn’t panic and almost pulled off the victory. A couple of seconds more patience at the diving maul that was thwarted by Jordie Barrett or a kinder bounce for Dan Sheehan and Ireland would have taken the match.

New Zealand found a level of performance that has largely escaped them in Ian Foster’s reign. Individually they fronted up and, as I wrote last week, in such an eventuality it would be dangerous. Ireland are the more complete team but New Zealand players delivered moments of magic; Richie Mo’unga and Will Jordan created and finished their third try exquisitely.

New Zealand, as South Africa had done previously, attacked our breakdown. Sam Cane was excellent and brought an edge to their defence. My sense before the match was that the weight of expectation was going to be too much for this All Blacks team, however they managed to use that pressure to help generate a top-class performance.

It is a simple equation, buckle under the pressure or shoulder it and stand tall. I had enjoyed the build-up where Ireland were accused by their opponents of arrogance and getting carried away which made me smile as that would have been my experience almost every time when I played in New Zealand; that undiluted sense of superiority.

The talk prematch was also about respect and rivalry, and I take enormous pride in the way our team has earned that respect. Rieko Ioane’s gesture after the final whistle was disappointing. Actions speak louder than words and this has made me question if it was just lip-service that New Zealander paid to that respect and rivalry.

Ireland will know that winning the game was within their control. That is the area Farrell will look forward to building on when he gets his hands on this group of players in the months ahead. There will be a modest enough turnover in the squad, the core group will more or less be the same.

Johnny Sexton has retired, so too Keith Earls, age may work against Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray but otherwise it will be a familiar feel when they come together again. Sexton, for me, will go down as Ireland’s greatest ever player.

The result at the Stade de France shouldn’t be a full stop for this group of Irish players, just another staging post on a journey. Ireland may no longer be the number one- ranked team, but they remain in the top three.

I was caught up in the dream of Ireland winning a World Cup, I even wore a jersey for the first time to a match. It might be very much the case that World Cups are just outside of our reach but it’s never an excuse to stop striving.

Sport is about being the best you can be but also that it is important to enjoy success, big and small moments, along the way, whatever and whenever they occur. That applies to players, coaches and supporters.